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Ten Years Later #16 "The Hat"
March 15, 2012…Forward Operating Base Edinburgh, Helmand province,  Afghanistan.  My hat got destroyed.  It was my own fault.  I knew better  than to wear it on the flight line as a helicopter is spooled up ready to go.   When I worked helicopter flight lines in Hawaii, I told passengers over  10,000 times never to wear your hat on the flight line.  A call came down  at the same time the helicopter was being run up for crew change.  For  some reason, it slipped my mind and I thought I was late to get to the  aircraft.  So, I sprinted out to the flight line, camera in tow, and my  favorite hat (my yellow New Mexico hat with Zia sun symbol) and headed  to the helicopter knowing full well that was a stupid thing to do.  Hat flew  off and was subsequently chopped into several pieces.  (Click to See The  HAT close up.) Caution may be too Graphic for Hat Lovers!  Thankfully, none of it was sucked into the intake, or, I may have just  bought a helicopter unexpectedly.  The medevac call actually got  cancelled and I sat in my seat waiting for the blades to stop turning.  I  felt like an idiot.  Everyone saw it happen.  My good standing has now  just been damaged by my own stupidity.  After it was determined no  damage was done to the helicopter, I was brought the pieces of my hat  with the words, "New Mexico" still intact.  I got that look from the  Captain, and then everyone began laughing at me.  I was worried I had  just worn out my welcome.  Not the case, yet.  There is a new "sheriff" in town.  The word has been put out that hats, or  covers as they are called in the military, need to be worn at all times  when roaming about the FOB.  It is a matter of  mental discipline which  comes in handy when one is stationed in places like Bagram or Kandahar.   There is some debate whether it helps out here in the boondocks or not.   Whatever the case is, my hat is torn to shreds and would look pretty  stupid on my head in its current state.  I did manage to bring an extra  one so I now am finding myself, putting it on, taking it off, putting it in  my pocket, losing it, etc.  I have no idea what the soldiers I'm around will  be doing with their hats but I can guarantee that none of them will get  their hats ripped off by fast turning rotor blades.    Rule #1…keep control of your hat and do what the sheriff says.  Other than my hat flying off my head yesterday, it was pretty much a non  event day after one of the busiest days ever in Dust Off here in Helmand  province.  There have been some events at the larger base that we fly to  from time to time transporting patients, where a local person lit himself  on fire the same day Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was visiting.   Consensus is that the bad guys wanted to make a statement with the  whole matter of the US soldier having gone array and blown away over a  dozen Afghan civilians the other day.  Hearts and minds are not exactly  being won over here lately and the political fallout from such things is  ridiculous.  It is all part of the things that happen when wars are waged  by politicians, not warriors.  Today, around mid-day, a medevac call came over the air waves.  I got to  the helicopter (without my hat) and got buckled in.  The crew today would be Mr. Griego the pilot in command; Mr. Caswell the other pilot; SSGT  Bowen was crew chief; Sgt Petty was the medic; Captain Kraus the flight  nurse and me, the photographer.  That's now a job, at least to me.  I was  honored to have some of the folks here do a presentation the day  previous at Camp Bastion and were able to use some of my photographs  in their medical power point show. So having me in the "photographer's  seat" has been a plus for all concerned.  It really did make my day.    The patient today was an ANA soldier who had part of one arm missing  and the other hand pretty much mangled up.  There was a dressing on  his right knee but I am not sure how severe the damage was.  He had  blood all over his face.  An IED got him and from what I have seen so far,  he's one of the lucky ones to have only lost half an arm.  His quality of  life is impaired, but, he can survive with the other three extremities.  I  have no idea how the Afghan soldiers who are double and triple  amputees survive in this country after we save their lives.   I don't think Hammad Karzi invites them over to his house.  As I took photos today and looked at the patient, I could not help but  think that he didn't look so bad.  He only lost part of one extremity.  That  is how one begins to deal with things here.  Last month I figured losing  half an arm was horrific.  This month I seem to think it's lucky to lose  only half an arm.  The patient however did not look like he was thrilled to  have lost part of his arm.  He actually looked awful and was in a lot of  pain.  Having an IED explode on you is never a good thing. We dropped the patient off at the big base and returned back to the FOB.   Weather was very hazy and we were once again kind of low level flying on the way back.  Shortly after our return to the FOB, the supply run from  the other location showed up.  Lots of the unit was together again and  were all glad to see one another.  It is a tightly knit bunch here at  Edinburgh.  Little by little the faces change. There is always a constant  flow of people coming in and going out.  I talked for a long time to some of the folks that I had met previously.  Many are preparing to go home soon after a long time of being here.  It is  apparent to me that going home is harder than coming here.  The op-  tempo here is high, especially when missions are on.  I think it is hard to  match this kind of intensity in most jobs.  Running out to helicopters and  flying them into hot LZ's and picking up people with arms and legs  missing is something that most folks don't do at their 9-5 jobs.  But then  again this is not a 9-5 job.  And these folks here aren't your everyday run  of the mill office workers.  This is the Dust Off community.  They run  around with their hats off to everybody.  My hat's off to 'em all.    Jim Spiri jimspiri@yahoo.com     
Sunset over the Cobra. Burning parachutes from air drop to FOB Edinburgh Third country nationals that build things here at the FOB Flying to the POI.  Mr. Griego on the left and Mr. Caswell on the right. Sgt Petty looking out the window enroute to POI Flight nurse Capt. Andrew Kraus checks out the view on the way to pick up injured ANA soldier Marines carrying the injured ANA soldier to the helicopter The injured ANA soldier in the helicopter Inside the helicopter treating the patient The feet of the injured ANA soldier Sgt Petty, left, and Capt Kraus, right, work on the patient Sgt Petty in the helicopter doing his job The bloody toe of the ANA soldier The view when the job is being done inside the helicopter Inside the cabin working on the injured Unloading  the patient at the larger medical facility The last I see of the patients when we drop them off at the larger facility Sgt Petty on the way back to the FOB after the mission is done Another view only this time from SSGT Bowen's side The view home from the cockpit
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